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HomeFarming NewsHow biochar could address agri challenges in Ireland
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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How biochar could address agri challenges in Ireland

One association is of the view that biochar production and use is an emerging opportunity in Ireland that the country needs to embrace.

By doing so, it believes that its full benefit will be realised in addressing a “series of challenges” across many sectors.

Biochar is a high carbon content solid material made by heating biomass in the absence of oxygen in pyrolysis.

It shows potential as a soil improver, increasing carbon content and providing habitats for beneficial soil microbiology.

The Irish Bioenergy Association has stated that biochar could benefit the forestry, agricultural and environmental sectors.

Possible uses:

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  • Soil remediator;
  • A slow-release fertiliser;
  • Filtration medium;
  • An animal feed additive;
  • A potential peat replacement;
  • Also, as a carbon sink.

Biochar production

Stephen McCormack, project executive with the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA), said:

“While levels of research into biochar and its various applications are increasing, much more is needed for its widescale production and use to be realised.”

“We call on national authorities, research and funding bodies to take this opportunity seriously by providing greatly enhanced funding and resources to explore further and understand biochar’s uses and applications in an Irish context.”

Biochar can be produced from indigenous biomass, including:

  • Food processing waste;
  • Woody biomass;
  • Fibrous grassy material;
  • Various sludges or manures.

Biochar production is accessible at many scales, and equipment can vary in size and complexity, depending on the output required.

McCormack continued: “Biochar is increasingly used in different applications across many industries.”

He highlighted that its porous nature, large surface area, surface chemistry, ability to bind with different substances and adsorption capacity makes it “a very versatile and useful material”.

“All these properties need to be further investigated in an Irish context through funded research and development projects.”

Biochar makes a useful tool for binding with nutrients and water in the soil, allowing for their retention.

Farmers can add it to slurry, manure and composting processes, aiding in reducing fugitive emissions and odorous compounds.

Also, farmers can use it as an additive for animal bedding, poultry litter and animal feed.

“These applications have the added benefit of increasing the carbon content of the material that gets composted, land spread or incorporated into the soil.”

“Biochar, in the form of activated carbon, is showing promise in water and wastewater treatment.”

Furthermore, biochar filters on farms can reduce nutrient run-off and reduce the risk of eutrophication.

Renewable heat 

Finan believes biochar production can play a part in many sectors and the provision of renewable heat.

“In the thermal conversion, through pyrolysis, of biomass to biochar, you end up with a valuable solid product in the biochar, but also a usable source of renewable heat.”

“The phrase combined heat and biochar has been used to describe this set-up and needs to be developed further.”

McCormack concluded: “Biochar is now commercially available here. IrBEA has shown leadership through projects such as the current Interreg funded THREE C project.”

“We have been engaging with those involved in the research and development of this sector, not only here but across Europe. Ireland has a growing number of biochar producers and end-users.”

“The appetite strongly exists for enhanced research and development to facilitate the further growth of the sector.”

He said it is an “interesting time” for people to be involved in the biochar space.

IrBEA stated it is “open to working” with those interested in collaboration for developing the sector here in Ireland on behalf of members.

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